Six Degrees (or less) of Separation

Maine author Lea Wait writes the USA Today best-selling Mainely Needlepoint series, the Agatha-nominated Shadows Antique Print series (in which a single woman wants to adopt an older child,) and historical novels set in 19th century Maine for ages 8 and up. She is the proud grandmother of eight, and is now married to artist Bob Thomas. She loves rowing, walking, speaking about writing, and drinking champagne to celebrate life. She invites readers to visit her website and friend her on Goodreads and Facebook.    

In 1990 I attended a performance of John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation at Lincoln Center in New York. I was fascinated with the theory (introduced in 1929 by Frigyes Karinthy) that we are each connected by only six introductions to every person in the world.

I’ll admit: I was dubious.

But now, as an author, I keep finding connections. Not always through people – sometimes through history. My latest book, Tightening the Threads, is an example.

The connections really began as far back as the mid-1970s when, as a single woman living in New York City’s Greenwich Village, I decided to adopt one or more “older” children. That decision led me to the adoption of my four daughters (who were born in Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong and India and were ages 5-10 when they came home). It also led to my knowing many other adoptive and foster parents, twenty years of actively advocating for single parent adoption and adoption of older children, counseling prospective parents, and writing and speaking about adoption. In the mid-1990’s I stopped being an adoption activist and turned to writing fiction, but I never lost my interest in adoption and foster care.

The second connection occurred in 2013. I was writing the first book (Twisted Threads) in a mystery series set on the coast of Maine, and I auctioned off character naming rights to an antiques dealer who lived in my fictional Haven Harbor at Bouchercon, a major mystery conference. I had no plans for that character – it could have been a man or a woman – but I was delighted to meet the winner of the auction: a young Australian woman named Sarah Byrne, who had white hair streaked with blue and pink. I couldn’t resist using her appearance as well as her name in my series.

Sarah’s been a major character in every book in the Mainely Needlepoint series. But I never explained how a young Australian woman would end up dealing in antiques on the coast of Maine. Honestly, I wasn’t sure. But I wanted to know, and I suspected my readers would, too.

And then came the next connection. In 2015 I was browsing through listings of films offered by Netflix, and saw a listing for a film called “Oranges & Sunshine,” about Margaret Humphrey, a social worker in Britain who’d uncovered the “child migrant” relocation program. Between 1945 and 1970 approximately 4300 children in British foster care (many with living parents) were transported from the U.K. to Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia and (3300 of them) to Australia, where some found new homes, but many were abused.

I knew immediately that my Sarah Byrne was connected to this program. I was horrified and fascinated, and did more research.

What was her connection? How did she end up on the coast of Maine? And what happened then?

Well, you’ll have to read Tightening the Threads to find out. But there’s a link to a free prequel on my website,

Six degrees of separation? Add together my interest in children’s welfare, an Australian woman who loves mysteries, a movie rental …. and you have the basis for a plot.

Maybe you don’t even need all six degrees.